Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dealing With Anger And Addicts

These video solutions from Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud address dealing with addicts, anger and the benefits of joining a healthy group for recovery.

How do I decide what is helpful and what is enabling regarding addicts?

I have been getting in touch with a lot of anger toward my mother. Do I have a responsibility to talk to her?

How can I deal with my anger?

Healthy groups can help with dysfunction

Check out the Orange County ACA website at: Orange County Adult Children

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Invisible Addiction

"We became addicted to excitement in all our affairs, preferring constant upset to workable relationships".

The Operational Statement Of The Problem explains the mechanics of addiction to conflict:

This addiction to excitement can be seen as an internal addiction to conflict. A continuously repeating cycle of alarm and collapse or "fight, flight and exhaustion".

Children learn that they can pull themselves out of depression and despair by focusing on the conflicts going on around them, which they then internalize in symbolic form. Their world is filled with the sights and sounds of conflict that drives them until they collapse in exhaustion. Only to get back up and do the same thing all over again.

Children are forced to remain in this pattern of addiction in order to stay above the ever increasing sense of demoralization they feel at being trapped in a cycle of despair. This cycle becomes self sustaining.

So from an early age, an ACA begins to use constant upset and conflict in an attempt to make themselves feel better. Growing up in a house filled with conflict, children of alcoholics may feel ostracized and isolated. Having few external outlets to turn to for comfort and solace they turn inwards and use the physical resources of their own bodies to give themselves an emotional lift.

They learn instinctively that emotional turmoil and anger release hormones and neurotransmitters such as adrenaline. Anger hormones have a similarity to methamphetamine and are addictive and intoxicating. The ACA becomes addicted to the internal drugs their own bodies produce to help them deal with the difficulties of being trapped living with addictive, abusive and dysfunctional caretakers.

By the time they become adults, this pattern has become ingrained.

Listen to recovery expert Marty S., author of the ACA Identity Papers, lead a workshop on how addiction to the "inside drugs" confounds our efforts at lasting recovery.

Click here and a new audio window will open: Confusing the Outside with the Inside mp3 audio

Workshop Handout and Graphics

Internal Addiction: The Hidden Problem

Adapted from: ACA Fellowship Text (formerly Handbook) pp. 23-24.
© Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, Inc.

It is important to note that we have taken in or internalized both parents. This includes the parent who appears more functional compared to the alcoholic or chemically addicted parent. Our experience shows that the "functional" or nonalcoholic parent passes on just as many traits as the identified alcoholic. The nonalcoholic parent also passes on his or her pattern of “internal drug abuse”. The paraalcoholic (the nondrinking parent) is driven by fear, excitement, and pain from the inside.

The biochemical surge and cascade of inner "drugs" that accompany these states of distress and upheaval can impact children as profoundly as outside substances. Our experience shows that the nondrinking parent's reaction to these inside drugs affects the children just as the alcoholic's drinking affects them. We realize this seems technical, but it is important to understand if we are to comprehend the reach of a dysfunctional upbringing.

As children, we were affected by the alcoholic drinking from without and by the para-alcoholic drugs from within. We believe that the long-term effects of fear transferred to us by a nonalcoholic parent can match the damaging effects of alcohol. This is why many of us can abstain from drinking alcohol or other addictive behavior, but be driven by inner drugs that can bring difficulties as we attempt to recover. This legacy of fear and distorted thinking seems to drive our switching from one addictive behavior to another as we try to make changes in our lives.

To think about internal dosing another way, consider this. The alcoholic can be removed from the family by divorce or separation, but nothing in the home really changes. The alcohol abuse or other dysfunction is gone, but the home remains fearful and controlling. Boundaries are unclear. The children don't talk about feelings. They either become enmeshed with the nondrinking parent or alienated from him or her.

The rules of don't talk, don't trust, and don't feel apply even with the removal of obvious dysfunction. The inside drugs are at work. The nondrinking parent's fear, excitement, and pain have been passed to the next generation. This is the internalization of parental feelings and behavior in its purest form.

Check out the Orange County ACA website at: Orange County Adult Children

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The ACOA Syndrome

Life can sometimes be difficult. For those from dysfunctional families, there can be added disadvantages. As ACA/ACOAs, there are four interrelated axioms that conspire against us when it comes to being successful in life. You may have overlooked how they work together to cause you distress and an inability to get what you want.

1. How Are Your Neurons?

The offspring of those with addictive personalities and/or who have experienced childhood trauma, are more prone to have deficits. We have a higher incidence of learning disabilities, ADD and focus problems. We are more prone to procrastination and absentmindedness. The tendency of ACAS to have difficulties "completing projects" is so well known, it is included in official ACA literature. Not an ideal situation when the realities of life demand promptness, meeting deadlines and paying bills on time.

2. Running To Stand Still

As we mature, there is a natural increase in responsibilities that demands more attention and requires us to process more information and make more choices. Work, home, family, personal relationships, pets and possessions all require constant maintenance. Keeping the pantry stocked, licenses current, insurance intact, bills payed, dogs walked, fish fed, appliances and vehicles maintenanced and repaired and mortgage/rent and taxes up to date is a constant challenge requiring adequate organization. The more "stuff" we accumulate as we go through life, the more associated details we need to remember. This can be a heavy tax on our already strained brains.

3. Tech Snowball Overload

The advent of ever increasing technology presents a staggering array of time consuming options from which to choose. In the not too distant past, there were only a few TV or radio channels from which to choose. Now there are thousands! Chances are, you are paying for at least two phone bills and some type of internet connection. Most people have computers with an ISP, assortment of applications, tasks and games. The number of people spending time online on social networks like Facebook or Myspace is growing exponentially. Then there are the accompanying account numbers and passwords to remember to access each cyberspace option. There are handheld PDAs on which you can book a trip, balance your bank account or locate a restaurant. We even have programmable toasters!

With websurfing, Youtube, email, blogs, texting, an unlimited number of DVDs to rent and an ever ratcheting up of mind numbing advertising vying for our attention, staying on task has never been more difficult! Those with difficulties prioritizing or making decisions may feel overwhelmed. All of these things take time and present peripheral distractions. Mental capacity is a finite thing. There is only so much of it. People with less than exemplary mental concentration and memory may feel like an overworked juggler, one fumble away from dropping something important.


All the issues listed above work in conjunction and multiply the odds that something, somewhere, will go wrong. As our "load" increases and our capacity to process all the details of life gets used up, the potential to overlook something important becomes more likely.

Sometimes a small but important detail, deadline, birthday, due date or name will be forgotten. It would be unrealistic NOT to expect this. Opportunities will sometimes be missed, important details will sometimes slip away. Mistakes will happen and that's part of life.

4. Completing The Failure Cycle!

As ACAs, we may have a predisposition to not handling our own faults and missteps well.

We often have extremely high expectations of ourselves- constantly seeking "perfection". And we are quick to take the blame or become a convenient scapegoat when things don't go as planned. Our ability to quickly find find fault with ourselves is so ingrained, we may do it autonomically, without even thinking about it. We are slow to recognize our own limitations even when outside forces contribute to our deficits.

ACAs are prepared to give up a lot to avoid even minor conflicts. We do not not want to "make waves" or challenge "authority"- even if it victimizes us! When we were young, survival required us to smooth over difficult situations and make everything all right when it really wasn't. We took the blame, internalized the pain and put on a smiley face for the benefit of our loved ones. We carry this codependent behavior over into adulthood.

And do you know how most people react when an ACA volunteers to take the blame for something even though it may not be entirely their own fault? They LET them! Especially when it absolves THEM of responsibility. Many people are happy to let someone else take the fall, as opposed to doing the right thing, if it saves their own rear or makes their life easier.

So we paint ourselves into a corner and no-win situation. We have deficits that make life's tasks difficult, yet expect ourselves to perform at a high level. We are slow to give ourselves a break when we don't measure up. We point the finger at ourselves and take the blame as a knee jerk reaction to our own inner taskmaster and our fear of conflict. It's no wonder we sometimes struggle.

Giving Yourself A Break

Sorry about all the doom and gloom but I feel it's important to define the problem well in order to understand it. If you've read this far, keep going- here is the payoff; It's really pretty easy to make positive changes and get more of what you want out of life.

When you give yourself a break, others are more likely to as well. So before you pull out the whip to start flogging yourself when a mistake is made:

1. Stop for a second. Try to step back and see the situation not as something that is happening TO you but just as something that is happening. Not taking it personally is key.

2. Take a deep breath, or several.

3. Suspend your judgement for a moment and ask yourself, "What's best for me, what would I like out of this?", "How can I make this actually work FOR me?".

Center the question on your core being, around your stomach area. Let the feeling guide you. This will help you stop playing the codependent blame game long enough to refocus. You may find the answer comes quickly. When you get it, push towards that goal.

Going for what you want requires one to become proactive and you may feel "selfish" or uncomfortable at first. That is a good sign. You are trying something new and are risking NOT letting your past self-defeating behavior again turn you into a puppet. Trying a new approach may feel quite foreign until you do it a few times.

Be Specific.

Be concise and to the point when talking about the problem and what outcome you would like. I have found that often, misinterpretation is at the heart of misunderstandings. Be prepared to repeat and restate. People often miss the details, hear only what THEY want and it takes a bit of work to get through. Remember, THEY may be ACA/ADD too! Tell them what YOU want. Then, if needed, tell them again, nicely. Rinse and repeat.

Demand more!

Make yourself ask for more than you would normally settle for in a conflict situation. Sometimes ALL you have to do is ask and you get a surprising "yes". Example: Did a creditor post your payment late? Ask for a reversal of the late fee. Many times they will give you a courtesy refund if you ask.

I make it a goal to ALWAYS consider asking for a little more than what initially occurs to me. This helps put me in a "taking care of myself" role and away from just automatically taking care of others. It can feel a bit weird but the results can be surprising!

In every situation there is always a chance for compromise. Just ASK.

Point fingers!

Not in a condemning or overly accusatory way, just matter of fact.

Instead of instantly blaming yourself, look at the entire picture. Don't be afraid to express an opinion that the other party may be wholly or partially liable for what went wrong. Be prepared to present evidence to support your point. They will quickly realize that you respect yourself and are more formidable that they first thought. They may also realize that you have a valid point that they hadn't previously considered and will take that into account.

Let Someone Help You!

I understand that you may be the all powerful savior of the world and don't need anything from anyone. But if you can remove your super hero cape for a second, other people are often eager to help. Did you mess up? Go ahead and admit it. Not in a self loathing way but more like discussing the weather. "Looks like I forgot to ________, I'm really sorry." The other party will probably admire your candidness and honesty.

Then ask if they can help. Be as specific as you can about what you want. You know, it makes people feel GOOD when they can lend a hand. Let them have that feeling by appreciatively recognizing them at the beginning of your interaction. You both get something out of it and that's a win/win.

Be Gracious Even In Defeat

Situations like this, though they may be small, may feel huge. Because of your past inability to stand up for yourself when you were powerless, old fears or feelings of being taken advantage of may be triggered by even small conflicts. It is a challenge to keep the inner child from being frightened or having an angry tantrum when things don't turn out his or her way.

Remind yourself that you are just practicing exercising your ME muscle. You won't get it right the first time, or every time. And that's ok. The more you do it, the better you will get at it.

Sometimes people will continue to be unreasonable in the face of reason. If you STAY reasonable when others don't, you've done all you can. You walk away a winner no matter what the outcome.

If you have an opinion, helpful tip or just need to rant, please add your comment below.

Famously successful ACAs include: Carol Burnette, Kirk Douglas and Suzanne Somers.

If you suffer from ADD or learning disabilities, you are in good company. Scientist Albert Einstein, Inventor Thomas Edison and Business Mogul Richard Branson are some of your mates.

Check out the Orange County ACA website at: Orange County Adult Children